Theme of the international day of older persons on 1st October this year is resilience and contribution of older women. The day thus reverberates around the struggles and fight back of elderly ladies against global challenges they face. Theme is unique in the sense that it reminds us of the special challenges faced by elderly ladies and stories of their struggle with resilience.
It is beyond doubt that in this male dominated world, women of all ages are victims of some type of discrimination or other. While feminism and social activism at various levels are attempting to bring sexual equality, there are cases of rampant exploitation stories of which come to light every day. This is not limited to sexual exploitation; there is all-round social manipulation of women in terms of physical dependency, professional discrimination, domestic violence, financial abuse among many others. The theme of international day of older persons this year, therefore, brings forth this serious issue regarding women with particular reference to elderly amongst them. This is not only limited to discrimination but also the facet of resilience and how elderly ladies should handle these challenges.
Special Case of Elderly Women in India:
As per the latest statistics, the number of elderly women (60 plus) is around 71 million compared to 67 million males of the same age. Indian women over the centuries have suffered from discrimination in terms of all their basic rights. While in Vedic Period ladies reportedly used to enjoy virtually the same rights as their male counterparts, over a period of time, for reasons not very much known, they had been relegated to “secondary status”. Things are, however, changing since independence and today women enjoy almost the same rights as their male colleagues. But still direct or indirect discrimination haunts the women, be it leadership position in corporate or recruitment / promotion in certain professions or decision making at various situations, etc.
Elderly women are no exception. They are found to be more dependent, socially excluded, and physically / mentally abused. Indian women, by tradition, do not speak out about neglect or abuse by their acquaintances or family members. Hence, real data is not available. But fact remains that women continue to be more neglected among the elderly population and it is high time we as a nation see the alarming reality. Situation is possibly worse for the elderly women who are single or widowed as they face more difficult challenges. The study by UNDP (2008) says that in India 65 per cent of widows are more than 60 years of age; 28 per cent of them are only eligible for pension and only 11 per cent actual receive it. That shows the extent to which elderly women have financial problems in society. Researches thus point out that elderly women in different parts of the world, more particularly in India face triple problems: being “old”, “discriminated”, and “poor”. In many cases they may be poor despite having property / money as they do not have financial decision-making powers.
Women specific counter-strategies are need of the hour. These strategies and their implementation tools should be both at macro as well as micro level. Some of these could be:
1. Justice System: Special courts for elder women abuse. There should be quick justice for elder women abuse cases with stricter punishment. This might help justice delivery to some extent. Similarly, every police station should have a dedicated lady person responsible for welfare of elderly women within its jurisdiction. Every state should have a special legal redressal mechanism for elderly women.
2. Pension System: Since many elderly ladies primarily those who are single or widows suffer from serious financial issues, there should be special pension scheme both by the central as well as stage governments for older women.
3. Specialized Elder Homes: India needs a large number of women specific elderly homes both in public / private sector. There are hardly any even in big cities. These should be totally free and / or highly subsidized.
4. Medical System: There is a need to create women geriatric counselors, nurses, and special beds for elderly women in hospitals. India has a serious shortage of medical and para-medical staff specialized in elderly women care.
5. Social Activism: NGOs that specialize in fighting for elderly women rights must come into existence. There are generic NGOs but there are hardly any that take care of specially the rights / problems of elderly women.
6. Social Awareness: We need to create special awareness campaigns at various levels of society like schools, colleges about special care, needs and problems of elderly women so that a socially sensitive society can be created.
However, at the end of the day, women must realize that they need to take care of their own destiny. What is needed is “strong resolve” and “mental power” to fight the odds. Once this happens and elderly women are able to fight their own battle with or without taking help from outside, half the battle is won against societal discrimination. The other half that is the problems of age-related issues, both physical and psychological, will continue to be there and they need to be conquered.
Theme of international day of older persons of resilience and contribution by older women is thus quite apt under present situation. As majority of nations stand united in their approach of removing gender discrimination or biases against women, elderly ladies will be the main beneficiaries. However, they need to fight the odds with all the power of resilience they have at their disposal. They have in past contributed to growth of family and nation and they should continue to do so in their old age too. At the same time, it is also their right to get back from the society a conducive environment ideal for “happy aging”. That is the minimum expectation.